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The influence of parents on their children is both subtle and powerful. From the earliest age, parents set expectations for their children in all different areas--how they will learn in school, how they will perform on the sports field, and how they will get along with others. When it comes to setting expectations about work, parents of young adults with intellectual disabilities need to convey the expectation that their young adults can work, can contribute, and can find great satisfaction in being part of the world of work.

In Massachusetts and throughout the country, young people with intellectual disabilities are becoming increasingly more successful as they transition from school to work. They are finding new pathways to careers as well as staying employed throughout their adult working years. Although employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities still lag behind those compared to individuals without disabilities, it is clear that enormous barriers to employment are being overcome. It is far more common now to see students and young adults with disabilities in a wide range of jobs throughout the community than it was even a decade ago.

This booklet is designed to help families of young adults with intellectual disabilities get started with the school-to-work transition process; learn about the resources, services, and programs available for young adults with intellectual disabilities; and find inspiration in the many success stories of young adults who have secured fulfilling employment with appropriate supports.

Read this booklet to learn what to do and when

As the parent of a young adult with disabilities, you may face concerns as you look beyond the school-age years to your young adult's future:

  • How will my young adult spend his/her days when school ends?

  • Given my young adult's disability, is he or she capable of working?

  • Will my young adult lose important benefits if he or she enters the workforce?

  • How will my young adult find and manage transportation to and from a job?

It is important to know that your son or daughter can have a meaningful and rewarding life after the supports and structure of secondary school end. You can take steps to make this happen by:

  • Starting to plan early for a successful school-to-work transition

  • Encouraging your young adult to develop practical skills and build confidence in his/her abilities

  • Learning about available employment resources and supports

  • Working with your young adult's school and the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to get an employment plan in motion

  • Advocating for your young adult as well as encouraging self-advocacy skills

The Department of Developmental Services

The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is the agency within the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services that is responsible for providing services and supports to Massachusetts' citizens with intellectual disabilities.

DDS created this booklet to provide helpful information to families of young adults with intellectual disabilities in their transition from school to work. The mission of the Department is to support individuals with intellectual disabilities to fully and meaningfully participate in their communities as valued members. The Department believes that:

  • Employment is a valued role and expectation for all adults of working age in our society.

  • It is important to raise expectations about the capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities as individuals who are and can be successfully employed in a range of jobs and work settings.

  • Individuals with disabilities should be supported to pursue meaningful work that is a good match with their interests and abilities.

  • Individual employment in the community is the preferred goal, working in a job where the person is hired by an employer and paid wages and benefits commensurate with other employees.

Learning the language of work

Consider the language you learned during your child's elementary and secondary school years. Expressions like IEP (Individualized Education Program), SPED (Special Education), mainstreaming, inclusion and pull-outs became commonplace in your vocabulary. Now it is time to learn another language as you plan for your young adult's working life. This booklet includes and explains many new words and concepts, such as supported employment, person-centered planning, work incentives and One-Stop Career Centers. Welcome to this new language--this booklet will help you feel comfortable using it.

Never stop advocating

Throughout elementary and secondary school, most parents of children with disabilities spend countless hours advocating for their children, reviewing their strengths and limitations, and requesting services that enable them to succeed in school. The advocacy skills you honed during those formative years will be extremely helpful as you and your young adult navigate the transition from school to work.

Success Story: Work is the "difference-maker"

Emily, Amy's mother, says that work has been the "difference-maker" in Amy's life. Since her first job in a grocery store at the typical age of 16, Amy has continued to discover her own interests and skills, trying a number of jobs. Currently she is working in a retail setting. Emily tells us, "Amy's paycheck has given her the money to do the things she wants: live in her own apartment, buy the most current fashions, go out to eat and take wonderful vacations every year. Work provides a boost to Amy's self-esteem and an answer to the often-asked question, "What do you do?" Work has also been the place where Amy has developed the most lasting and consistent relationships in her community." In response to the question "Have there been challenging issues to deal with?" Emily admits, "Sure: transportation, finding the right job and earning enough money." Is the end result of having a job worth tackling these issues? Amy's answer is an unequivocal and resounding "Yes!" And her parents agree!

Did You Know?

When young adults have work experiences while attending school, they are much more likely to find and keep a job after leaving school.

Entitlement or Eligibility?

When your young adult is still in school, the services s/he receives are an entitlement. Once out of school, even though s/he may be eligible for adult services, such as those provided by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), access to services depends on current state funding. This booklet will help guide you in making the most of the state programs, resources and supports that are available today.